Sponsor of the LA Music Awards
Rolling Stone is a fortnightly magazine that focuses on popular culture. It was founded in San Francisco in 1967 by Jann Wenner, who is still the magazine’s editor-in-chief, and music critic Ralph J. Gleason. The magazine was first known for its musical coverage and for political reporting by Hunter S. Thompson. In the 1990s, the magazine shifted focus to a younger readership interested in youth-oriented television shows, film actors, and popular music. In recent years, the magazine has resumed its traditional mix of content.
Rolling Stone Magazine was founded in San Francisco in 1967 by Jann Wenner. To get the magazine off the ground, Wenner borrowed $7,500 from his own family and from the parents of his soon-to-be wife, Michell Palmer. The first issue carried a cover date of November 9, 1967 and was in newspaper format with a lead article on the Monterey Pop Festival. The cover price was 35¢ (equivalent to $2.48 today).
Wenner stated in the first issue that the title of the magazine referred to the 1950 blues song, “Rollin’ Stone”, recorded by Muddy Waters, the rock and roll band The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan’s hit single “Like a Rolling Stone”. Rolling Stone initially identified with and reported the hippie counterculture of the era. However, the magazine distanced itself from the underground newspapers of the time, such as Berkeley Barb, embracing more traditional journalistic standards and avoiding the radical politics of the underground press. In the very first edition of the magazine, Wenner wrote that Rolling Stone “is not just about the music, but about the things and attitudes that music embraces.”
In the 1970s, Rolling Stone began to make a mark with its political coverage, with the likes of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson writing for the magazine’s political section. Thompson first published his most famous work Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas within the pages of Rolling Stone, where he remained a contributing editor until his death in 2005. In the 1970s, the magazine also helped launch the careers of many prominent authors, including Cameron Crowe, Lester Bangs, Joe Klein, Joe Eszterhas, Patti Smith and P. J. O’Rourke. It was at this point that the magazine ran some of its most famous stories, including that of the Patty Hearst abduction odyssey. One interviewer, speaking for a large number of his peers, said that he bought his first copy of the magazine upon initial arrival on his college campus, describing it as a “rite of passage”.
In 1977, the magazine moved its headquarters from San Francisco to New York City. Editor Jann Wenner said San Francisco had become “a cultural backwater.”
During the 1980s, the magazine began to shift towards being a general “entertainment” magazine. Music was still a dominant topic, but there was increasing coverage of celebrities in television, films and the pop culture of the day. The magazine also initiated its annual “Hot Issue” during this time.
Rolling Stone was initially known for its musical coverage and for Thompson’s political reporting. In the 1990s, the magazine changed its format to appeal to a younger readership interested in youth-oriented television shows, film actors and popular music. This led to criticism that the magazine was emphasizing style over substance. In recent years, the magazine has resumed its traditional mix of content, including in-depth political stories. It has also expanded content to include coverage of financial and banking issues. As a result, the magazine has seen its circulation increase and its reporters invited as experts to network television programs of note.
The printed format has gone through several changes. The first publications, in 1967–72, were in folded tabloid newspaper format, with no staples, black ink text, and a single color highlight that changed each edition. From 1973 onwards, editions were produced on a four-color press with a different newsprint paper size. In 1979, the bar code appeared. In 1980, it became a gloss-paper, large format (10″×12″) magazine. As of edition of October 30, 2008, Rolling Stone has had a smaller, standard-format magazine size.
Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera, and Blake Shelton, on the cover of the February 1, 2012, issue of Rolling Stone
After years of declining readership, the magazine experienced a major resurgence of interest and relevance with the work of two young journalists in the late 2000s, Michael Hastings and Matt Taibbi.
In 2005, Dana Leslie Fields, former publisher of Rolling Stone, who had worked at the magazine for 17 years, was an inaugural inductee into the Magazine Hall of Fame.
In 2009, Taibbi unleashed an acclaimed series of scathing reports on the financial meltdown of the time. He famously described Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid.”
Bigger headlines came at the end of June 2010. Rolling Stone caused a controversy in the White House by publishing in the July issue an article by journalist Michael Hastings entitled, “The Runaway General”, quoting criticism of General Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan commander, about Vice President Joe Biden and other Administration members of the White House. McChrystal resigned from his position shortly after his statements went public.
In 2010, Taibbi documented illegal and fraudulent actions by banks in the foreclosure courts, after traveling to Jacksonville, Florida and sitting in on hearings in the courtroom. His article, Invasion of the Home Snatchers also documented attempts by the judge to intimidate a homeowner fighting foreclosure and the attorney Taibbi accompanied into the court.
In January 2012, the magazine ran exclusive excerpts from Hastings’ book just prior to publication. The book, The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan, provided a much more expansive look at McChrystal and the culture of senior American military and how they become embroiled in such wars. It has been described as a boozy, sexy account of the misadventures of America’s “most notorious killers”. The book reached Amazon’s bestseller list in the first 48 hours of release, and it received generally favorable reviews. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald described it as “superb,” “brave” and “eye-opening.”
In 2012, Taibbi, through his coverage of the LIBOR scandal, emerged as an expert on that topic, which lead to media appearances outside Rolling Stone.
On November 9, 2012, the magazine published its first Spanish-language section on Latino music and culture, in the issue dated November 22.
Rolling Stone’s website features selected current articles, reviews, blogs, MP3s and other features, such as searchable and free encyclopedic articles about artists, with images and sometimes sound clips of their work. The articles and reviews are sometimes in a revised form of the published versions. The website also carries political and cultural articles and entries selected from the magazine’s archives.
The site at one time had an extensive message-board forum. By the late 1990s, this had developed into a thriving community, with a large number of regular members and contributors worldwide. However, the site was also plagued with numerous Internet trolls and malicious code-hackers, who vandalized the forum substantially. The magazine abruptly deleted the forum in May 2004, then began a new, much more limited message board community on their site in late 2005, only to remove it again in 2006. In March 2008, the website started a new message board section once again, then deleted it in April 2010.
Rolling Stone devotes one of its table of contents pages to promoting material currently appearing on its website, listing detailed links to the items. The magazine also has a page at MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.
On April 19, 2010, the website was updated drastically and now features the complete archives of Rolling Stone. The archive was first launched under a for-pay model, but has since transitioned to a free-with-print-subscription model. In the spring of 2012, Rolling Stone launched a federated search feature which searches both the website and the archive.
In December 2009, the Los Angeles Times reported that the owners of Rolling Stone magazine planned to open a Rolling Stone restaurant in the Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood in the spring of 2010. The expectation was that the restaurant could become the first of a national chain if it was successful. As of November 2010, the “soft opening” of the restaurant was planned for December 2010. In 2011, the restaurant was open for lunch and dinner as well as a full night club downstairs on the weekends. The restaurant closed in February 2013.
One major criticism of Rolling Stone involves its generational bias toward the 1960s and 1970s. One critic referred to the Rolling Stone list of the “99 Greatest Songs” as an example of “unrepentant rockist fogeyism”. In further response to this issue, rock critic Jim DeRogatis, a former Rolling Stone editor, published a thorough critique of the magazine’s lists in a book called Kill Your Idols: A New Generation of Rock Writers Reconsiders the Classics (ISBN 1-56980-276-9), which featured differing opinions from many younger critics.
Rolling Stone magazine has been criticized for reconsidering many classic albums that it had previously dismissed, and for frequent use of the 3.5-star rating. For example, Led Zeppelin was largely written off by Rolling Stone magazine critics during the band’s most active years in the 1970s, but by 2006, a cover story on the band honored them as “the Heaviest Band of All Time”. A critic for Slate magazine described a conference at which 1984’s The Rolling Stone Record Guide was scrutinized. As he described it, “The guide virtually ignored hip-hop and ruthlessly panned heavy metal, the two genres that within a few years would dominate the pop charts. In an auditorium packed with music journalists, you could detect more than a few anxious titters: How many of us will want our record reviews read back to us 20 years hence?”
The hiring of former FHM editor Ed Needham further enraged critics who alleged that Rolling Stone had lost its credibility.
The 2003 Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of all Time article, which named only two female musicians, resulted in Venus Zine answering with their own list, entitled “The Greatest Female Guitarists of All Time”.
Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg stated that Rolling Stone had “essentially become the house organ of the Democratic National Committee”. Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner has made all of his political donations to Democrats.
Rolling Stone’s film critic, Peter Travers, has been criticized for his high number of repetitively used blurbs.
The August 2013 Rolling Stone cover, featuring then-accused (later convicted) Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, drew widespread criticism that the magazine was “glamorizing terrorism” and that the cover was a “slap in the face to the great city of Boston.” The online edition of the article was accompanied by a short editorial stating that the story “falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day”. The controversial cover photograph that was used by Rolling Stone had previously featured on the front page of The New York Times on May 5, 2013.
In response to the outcry, New England-based CVS Pharmacy and Tedeschi Food Shops banned their stores from carrying the issue. Also refusing to sell the issue were Walgreens, Rite-Aid, Roche Bros., Kmart, H-E-B, Walmart, 7-Eleven, Hy-Vee, Rutter’s Farm, United Supermarkets, Cumberland Farms, Market Basket, Shaw’s and Stop & Shop. Boston mayor Thomas Menino sent a letter to Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, calling the cover “ill conceived, at best …[it] reaffirms a message that destruction gains fame for killers and their ’causes’.” Menino also wrote, “To respond to you in anger is to feed into your obvious market strategy”, and that Wenner could have written about the survivors or the people who came to help after the bombings instead. In conclusion he wrote, “The survivors of the Boston Marathon deserve Rolling Stone cover stories, though I no longer feel that Rolling Stone deserves them.”
UVA rape story
Main article: A Rape on Campus
On December 5, 2014, Rolling Stone’s managing editor, Will Dana, apologized for a story that was run about an alleged gang rape on the campus of the University of Virginia. Separate inquiries by Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity accused by Rolling Stone of facilitating the rape, and The Washington Post revealed major errors and discrepancies in the report. Reporter Sabrina Erdely’s story was subject to intense media criticism. The Washington Post and Boston Herald issued calls for magazine staff involved in the report to be fired. Rolling Stone subsequently issued three apologies for the story. Some suggested that legal action against the magazine by persons accused of the rape might result.
Rolling Stone commissioned an outside investigation of the story and its problems by the dean of the Columbia School of Journalism. The report uncovered journalistic failure in the UVA story and institutional problems with reporting at Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone retracted the story on April 5, 2015. On April 6, 2015, following the investigation and retraction of the story, Phi Kappa Psi announced plans to pursue all available legal action against Rolling Stone, including claims of defamation.
On May 12, 2015, UVA associate dean Nicole Eramo, chief administrator for handling sexual assault issues at the school, filed a $7.5 million defamation lawsuit in Charlottesville Circuit Court against Rolling Stone and Erdely, claiming damage to her reputation and emotional distress. Said the filing, “Rolling Stone and Erdely’s highly defamatory and false statements about Dean Eramo were not the result of an innocent mistake. They were the result of a wanton journalist who was more concerned with writing an article that fulfilled her preconceived narrative about the victimization of women on American college campuses, and a malicious publisher who was more concerned about selling magazines to boost the economic bottom line for its faltering magazine, than they were about discovering the truth or actual facts.”
On July 29, 2015, three graduates of the fraternity Phi Kappa Psi filed a lawsuit against Rolling Stone, its publisher Wenner Media, and a journalist for defamation and infliction of emotional distress.